Sitting for the Gold

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Update: Congratulations to the USA Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team and Coach Hamiter for winning Gold against China at the Tokyo Paralympics!

As the Olympics wrap up, the next round of athletes–Paralympic athletes–take to the court on Aug. 24 – Sept. 5 in Tokyo, to amaze the world with their incredible skill, despite physical disability. The U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball National Team, based at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, intends to add a second gold medal to its collection when it competes in Tokyo.

“Sitting volleyball rules are similar to standing volleyball, but the court is smaller, and the players have to remain in contact with the floor,” said U.S. Women’s Sitting Team Head Coach, Bill Hamiter. “To play internationally, the athlete must have some level of disability. It can be missing limbs but other things as well, as we have a player born with drop foot, and one has her ankle fused together. Their disabilities may come from cancer, accident, or from a war, but they are deserving athletes.”

Heather Erickson moved to Edmond 10 years ago to play the sport. “I was hesitant at admitting I had a disability, but once I sat down and played sitting volleyball, I fell in love with the sport. This will be my fourth Paralympic Games, and it is a privilege I do not take lightly.”   

Coach Hamiter, who led the team to a silver medal in London Paralympics Games in 2012 and a gold medal at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, admits he never saw himself coaching a Paralympic team. He started coaching college volleyball on the side, but one thing led to another, and he was asked to coach sitting volleyball. 

“Now, I know it’s my calling,” Hamiter said. “I’ve always been driven to serve the underserved. Early on, I was buying t-shirts out of my own pocket so that the team would have uniforms to practice in, but then UCO became the team’s national training center for USA Volleyball, and it’s a tremendous partnership.” 

“It’s rare to find a community so welcoming,” Erickson said. “Knowing that the community is cheering for us carries so much weight as we go into the Tokyo games, because there won’t be fans in the arena. It makes me want to win even more to make Edmond proud.”

As this No. 1 world-ranked team heads to Tokyo, the pressure to win gold again is palpable, but Hamiter believes that this team, with such a strong mix of experienced players, is poised to win. 

“We’ve had to regroup since the pandemic delayed last year’s Games,” Hamiter said. “Fortunately, we have players who can step in to play multiple roles at a high skill level—and not knowing what will happen with COVID or contact tracing, our ability to manage the possibility of losing team members is imperative.”

Hamiter continues to be impressed with the athletic ability of his players each year. “These players are great athletes, just like the athletes on the Olympic side. They don’t get the promotion or accolades of some of the better-known Olympic players, like gymnast Shannon Miller, but I’d love to see them get more respect and promotion.”  

The athletes are focused on working successfully as a team. Erickson, who won gold in Rio, remembers that win. “There’s such happiness in that moment, seeing your country’s flag flown above all others,” she said. 

“After inching from bronze (in 2004) to silver(in 2008 and ‘12) to gold (in 2016), we were so joyful,” Hamiter said. “This team is deeply athletic, and I believe we can do it again.”    

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